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Storm Causes Drive-In Intermission

Sunset shines through the storm-damaged movie screen.

MINETTO, NY – In the moments after the storm passed last night (July 8) the proprietor of one of the country’s few remaining drive-in theaters stood quietly near the projection room looking toward the destroyed movie screen.

IMG_7188-001“It’s going to be a few days before we know what the insurance will say,” Midway Drive-In Theater owner John Nagelschmidt said Tuesday (July 8).

Oswego County Today asked if he is made whole financially would he rebuild?

“Nothing’s impossible,” Nagelschmidt said.

The storm that brought down the big screen hit Central New York with extreme alert tornado warnings posted by the National Weather Service at about 5:50 p.m. for nearby counties of Onondaga, Madison, Cayuga and Oneida.

The theater is in Oswego County where there were severe storm warnings, but no tornado alerts.

Damage viewed from the back of the screen.
View of damage from the back of the screen.

The theater owner said he was having supper at Mom and Pop’s diner in Oswego and after the heavy rain passed decided to head for the drive-in to check and see if the lot had flooded.

With a seven-night movie schedule, cars would soon be headed to the Route 48 theater in Minetto for the dusk showing of the slated double-feature “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Maleficent”.

“I was going to go home and take a shower first,” Nagelschmidt said while looking at the splintered remains of plywood and cement board clinging to framework and massive wooden poles that comprise the 50 feet x 100 feet movie screen. “I had to work tonight.”

The screen as it appeared before Tuesday's storm.
The screen as it appeared before Tuesday’s storm.

The historic Midway Drive-In Theatre opened in the summer of 1948 as the visionary enterprise of Ruben and Irving Canter, nearly a decade before the heyday of drive-ins would surge in the 1950s and ’60s.

In the late 1960’s, Midway was sold to A.T. Kolinski and C. Girard.

After working at the theater while a SUNY Oswego student and then managing the landmark, Nagelschmidt bought the business in 1987 and has run it as a family operation ever since.

“We’re all family, everyone who works here,” he said.

The Nagelschmidt Family gathers to survey the damage.
The Nagelschmidt Family gathers to survey the damage.

John’s daughter Heidi said before she was even able to get to the drive-in to see what happened people from all over the United States began contacting her to check on the family.

People across the country connected by social media saw the first photos of the iconic projection screen decimated by wind and the news spread like a wild fire.

“Facebook is such a great medium, our pages just lit up with comments of love and support from the community for this landmark that is my second home,” Heidi said.

“When I got the call that there had been damage, I just knew it was the screen. Ever since I was a little girl I would just stand and look in awe at its awesomeness. … I kind of looked at it as a castle, or a fortress – like nothing could ever damage it.” Heidi said.

IMG_7237-001The screen and cement block wall suffered damage, along with the ticket booth from flying debris and a few trees downed on the property, but the projection room and the parking lot were intact.

And even though ravaged by the evening storm, Heidi noted the screen’s foundation is still standing and said her magic fortress is defiant.

“Like it’s saying, ‘You can’t take me down,'” she said.

As the family allowed John a brief intermission of quiet reflection, Heidi expressed the emotion in her own heart.

“It’ll live on,” she said.

From the drive-in's webpage, this aerial view facing north-Oswego River, Lake Ontario and NRG smokestacks in the background
From the drive-in’s webpage, this aerial view facing north-Oswego River, Lake Ontario and NRG steamstation smokestacks in the background.

10 Comments

  1. Don’t wait for insurance to decide whether and when the damage will get covered. Solicit some big box stores (Lowes & HD) for a charitable donation of plywood, cement backer board, etc. I’m sure any # of local builders would donate time and effort to get this place back up. You can’t sit back and wait…

  2. Living in Delaware now, I have fond memories growing up a watching movies there. Parents had 10 children. So it was such a treat for us kids when we were able to go. We had the last Drive in in Delaware close a couple years ago. I hope this one gets saved

  3. Charity should be for those who houses were damaged and to poor people who can’t afford clean up crew for tree removal.NOT for a movie screen!!! Where the heck are peoples priorities these days. There is a family that lost 3 family members. They need charity to help with funeral costs and helping with whatever they need to deal with such tragedy!!

  4. @Elizabeth Miller: Charity is decided by the individual/entity who donates either time, material or money! Who are you to JUDGE…..are you God?? People like you make me sick! This place has a lot of meaning to many many people, so if people or companies want to DONATE……it’s really not any of your business!! If you don’t like it, then don’t read the articles!! FYI: people have many many options to receive assistance when poor, it’s called social services and Human services and the goodness of others!! GET A GRIP ELIZABETH!!

  5. My family and I lived in Oswego from 1959/1960 and 1961-1965. We would go to the drive-in at least twice a month during the Summers. It was always a treat. I hope that either way they get to restore the drive-in so that many more can enjoy the fun of seeing first run movies in the comfort of their cars.

  6. if the midway isnt rebuilt i will totally miss it , the place is a landmark and has a lot of history for a lot of people i spent every weekend there with my boys and have a lot of fond memories and to this day have my own favorite parking spot i go early just to get so i just know it has to be rebuilt for the generations to come

  7. I think that’s a great idea Erik, I would have never thought of asking local business’s to help. The Midway Drive-in was the only drive in left in CNY. Where else can you take the kids in their Jammies, and all cuddle,eat homemade popcorn and drink pop. Other than Walmart, for weaning the Jammie’s, lol.

  8. If they need help with the rebuild I’ll help 315 592 4444 no pay. I got fond memories there and I would crush me if the place didn’t get rebuilt they have my support if they need it

  9. I to have many memories at the mid-way drive ins. My father to me as a child every weekends. I know people that worked the food. Everyone was so great there. I hate to lose such a great place to go. I hope all you in Oswego county are going to help fight to fix it. I live in PA now, but I grew up there. It’s still a treat to come visit and enjoy the mid-way theater. FIX THE MID_WAY!!!

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